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  • Karl Lagerfeld

    The headquarters of Chanel are situated in two adjacent eighteenth-century buildings on the Rue Cambon, in Paris, occupying a labyrinthine suite of rooms on five floors, above a street-level Chanel boutique. One evening last December, Karl Lagerfeld, the label’s artistic director, and twenty-two assistants—hair, makeup, shoes, jewelry, music—crammed into a room on the complex’s top floor to conduct a fitting for a collection that was to be shown six days later, in Monte Carlo.

    Many male designers wear T-shirts and jeans not only to work but also at runway shows—as if to suggest that they are somehow above the world of trend and fashion they inhabit. Lagerfeld, who was dressed in a tight Dior suit of broad gray and blue stripes, and a pair of aviator sunglasses, disdains this practice. “I don’t think I’m too good for what I’m doing,” he says. His starched shirt had a four-inch-high collar that fit snugly under his chin, and his hair—whitened with a gesso-like dry shampoo—was pulled into a ponytail. His large belt buckle was encrusted with diamonds; his tie, looped with silver chains, was fixed with a jade Cartier clasp from the nineteen-twenties. He was wearing fingerless black biker gloves that bore silver grommets, etched with the Chanel logo, on each knuckle and were equipped, at the wrists, with small zippers that carried faintly S & M overtones. “Très chic, non?” he said, holding up a hand to be admired. A chunky Chrome Hearts ring adorned the pinkie finger, over the glove.


    Lagerfeld took a seat at a long table at one end of the room. Sipping from a glass of Coke Zero—fresh glasses were brought to him at intervals on a lacquer tray by an assistant—he surveyed the fitting model, a baby-faced woman with a slim, ideally proportioned body, which Lagerfeld nevertheless judged to be a little plump. “She has maybe two kilos that she should lose,” he whispered to his top assistant, Virginie Viard. Over the next three hours, the model tried on a series of garments that Lagerfeld had spent the previous six weeks conceiving: embroidered tweed s***t suits, tulle dresses festooned with camellias, and skintight flannel-Lycra pants. Each garment provoked swooning cries from his retinue:

    “Oooo, là, Karl!”

    “Très jolie!”

    “Superbe!”

    Lagerfeld accepted the praise with a shrug. “I do my job like I breathe,” he said, in his customary manner—rapid, declamatory speech made more emphatic by a heavy German accent. “So if I can’t breathe I’m in trouble!”

    Since Lagerfeld took over Chanel, in 1983, more than a decade after the death of its founder, Coco Chanel, it has become one of the most profitable luxury brands in the world, with revenues estimated at more than four billion dollars a year. (The company is privately owned and does not release earnings figures.) A significant portion of the income comes from sales of accessories and makeup, and from No. 5 perfume, which was created by Chanel herself, in 1921. But accessories and perfume cannot sustain a fashion brand’s prestige; the company must also stage extravagant runway shows featuring garments of outlandishness, originality, and fantastic expense.


    Lagerfeld, despite being nearly twice the age of many of his competitors at other labels (he admits to sixty-eight), has been able, season after season, to generate excitement and demand for Chanel’s clothes. “His major strength is to be about his business in the present and never have a moment for other people to think that he’s passé,” Michael Roberts, the fashion director of Vanity Fair (and, before that, of this magazine) and a friend of Lagerfeld’s for thirty years, says. Lagerfeld has maintained his preëminence for five decades, and without any visible sign of strain—unlike his contemporary Yves Saint Laurent, who, until he retired, in 2002, took a Proustian attitude to designing collections, experiencing nervous breakdowns over the hemline juste. “Yves pursued the goal of poetic designer suffering for his art,” Roberts says. “I can’t imagine Karl for one minute sitting down and thinking, I’m going to suffer for my art. Why should he? It’s just dresses, for God’s sake.”

    Until recently, Lagerfeld produced eight collections a year for Chanel (both ready-to-wear and haute couture), five for the Italian luxury label Fendi, and several for labels under his own name—a staggering workload. In 2002, he added an extra Chanel show to his schedule: a high-end ready-to-wear collection designed to profile the work of the Paris métiers d’art, the ateliers that create, by hand, the embroideries, beading, tulle flowers, hats, and shoes on which couture designers rely. (Chanel bought the ateliers in 2002, but all the Paris-based couturiers use them.) The first of these so-called “satellite” collections was shown in 2002, in Paris, and it was such a commercial success that Chanel decided to give similar shows a permanent place on its calendar and to stage them in different cities.

    Lagerfeld’s ability to create so much clothing for three different labels makes him unique among fashion designers, but he is also a photographer whose work appears in glossy magazines around the world. He shoots the Chanel press kits and catalogues that accompany the collections, as well as fine-art photography, which he periodically displays in galleries. (He recently had a solo exhibition in Berlin.) An avid reader in four languages—English, French, German, and Italian—Lagerfeld also publishes books; his imprint, a division of the German house Steidl, is called Édition 7L, and a few years ago he opened a bookstore, also called 7L, in space adjoining his photo studio, on the Rue Lille.

    Édition 7L has published forty-one titles, on subjects that range across his many interests, which include (besides fashion and photography) literature, humor, advertising, music, newspapers, mythology, illustration, and architecture. Some of these books have a bracing impracticality: an anthology of the first ten years of the magazine Interview weighed forty-three kilos and was packaged in a wooden trolley of Lagerfeld’s devising.





  • #2
    French animated movie "Totally Spies" will get a designer makeover with fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld set to lend his voice to the film, the film's producer Marathon Media confirmed Wednesday.

    Pascal Jardin's animated action film based on the hit TV series will feature Lagerfeld as the story's "bad guy," Fabu. "Spies" will mark the first time Lagerfeld has lent his voice to an animated title, though Lagerfeld's fashion line Chanel has been ubiquitous on the big screen recently from Jan Kounen's Festival de Cannes closing-night title "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" to Anne Fontaine's Audrey Tautou starrer "Coco Before Chanel," which will be released stateside in September.

    "Spies" is co-produced by Marathon Media alongside France Telecom co-financing powerhouse Studio 37 and Italian shingle Mikado. The 8 million ($11.3 million) film will hit Gallic screens on July 22 via Mars Distribution.

    "Spies" is set for a spin around the world, with Marathon inking sales in major territories including Switzerland (World Dream), Australia (Rialto), Mexico (Gussi), Benelux (Les Films d'Elysees), Eastern Europe (SPI) and is in negotiations for sales to the U.K., Germany, Brazil, Colombia, Greece and Spain.



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